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SCOTTISH GENEALOGY SOCIETY
Surnames & Naming patterns
by Jean Moore
Patronymic - taking the father's Christian name e.g. Robertson
Occupation - e.g. Smith (the most common surname of all)
Locality - e.g. Wood
Nickname - e.g. White, Little.
Patronymics - Lowland names such as Wilson, Robertson, Thomson and Johnson are among the most common surnames in Scotland. 'Mac' names are also patronymic. MacManus - son of Magnus. 'Mc' is just a printer's contraction and has no significance as to etymology.
Occupation - Names which are derived from trades and occupations - mostly found in towns. The most common of these is Smith (the most common surname in Scotland, England and the USA) but other examples would be Taylor (tailor) Baxter (baker) and Cooper (barrel maker).
Locality - In Scotland the tendency is for people to be named after places (in England the tendency is the opposite). Examples of such names are Morton, Lauder, Menzies and Galloway.
Nickname - Names which could refer to colour or size, e.g. White, Black, Small, Little. Scottish names in this category include Campbell (meaning 'crooked mouth'). Another example of nickname - this time referring to the bearers origins - is Scott.
People of all countries tend to use forenames which run in the family. In Scotland families not only use such names but they tend to follow naming patterns - the most common of which is:-
1st son - named after his paternal grandfather
2nd son - named after his maternal grandfather
3rd son - named after his father
1st daughter - named after her maternal grandmother
2nd daughter - named after her paternal grandmother
3rd daughter - named after her mother
Although this naming pattern was not always used, it can be a useful indication to genealogists. Unfortunately, this pattern is not used to the same extent today.
Origins of some Scottish surnames
Fraser - Originally De Frisselle, de Freseliere or De Fresel. The first recorded bearer of the name was Sir Simon Frasee who held lands in East Lothian. Fortunate marriages enabled the family to acquire lands all over Scotland. By such means they acquired Philorth in Buchan in 1375 - this became the chief seat of the Frasers. The family was raised to the peerage in the person of the first Lord Lovat. To the Gaels the chief of the Frasers is known as MacShimidh - 'son of Simon'.
Bruce - A locality name from Normandy - Brix near Cherbourg. The first recorded bearer of the name accompanied William the Conqueror and the second accompanied King David to Scotland to claim the throne. This was the family which produced Robert the Bruce and, although the royal line died out in 1314, the name Bruce is today among the hundred commonest Scottish surnames.
Robertson - a patronymic name. The first bearer of the name was Robert, grandson of Duncan the Fat (Donnchadh Reamhar). The family acquired lands in the central Highlands. However, the commonality of the name in Scotland can only be explained, not by any connection to the original family, but by the large number of people who adopted the name because it was their fathers' forename. In Gaelic the clan continues to be called Clann Donnacha - Duncan's children - from their descent from Duncan the Fat.
Stewart - an occupational name. It comes from the office of steward which was a position of importance under the Crown. Among alternative spellings of the name are Stuart and Steward. Mary, Queen of Scots favoured the spelling Stuart as there is no 'W' in the French language. To the Gaels the Stewarts are known as 'the race of Kings and Tinkers'.
Good Source for Scottish Genealogy